This column first appeared in The Record’s Vida Católica section on April 25, 2019.
The benefits of a Catholic education are many and varied, both for the Catholic child, as well as children of all faith traditions, even those from no religious affiliation. Among those children who can and do benefit from a Catholic education are Hispanics. Though often overlooked in demographic conversations about Catholic school students, Hispanic children are a growing portion of those enrolled in Catholic schools here in the Archdiocese of Louisville. Given equal access and opportunity, Hispanic students are eager and willing to thrive in a Catholic school environment.
The Catholic Church in the United States has had a long and heralded history with Catholic education. Due to the nineteenth century’s Council of Baltimore’s decree mandating the establishment of Catholic schools in every parish, no other country besides the United States has enjoyed a higher percentage of parishes that sponsor a Catholic school and the opportunity to incorporate God and faith in all aspect of learning and human development. U.S. Catholics, especially Anglos, have grown accustomed to having the option of attending a Catholic school. We take for granted that a Catholic school is there if we want it. We sometimes fail to see that just having the opportunity to attend a Catholic school and receive the gift of a Catholic education is itself a miracle in our midst. Many of our recently arrived Hispanic immigrant families are ready to experience this miracle in their lives.
In many of their native countries, Hispanics do not enjoy the option of a Catholic education; Catholic schools simply do not exist. Government opposition, cultural barriers, poverty – all contribute to the lack of Catholic schools worldwide. Additionally, in many countries where Catholic schools do exist, only the wealthiest of people can afford to send their children to these school. So, imagine the joy of a first-generation immigrant Hispanic family to have their child enrolled in a Catholic school here in this country! Already, even in Kindergarten, their child has a leg up on their own education. These families take pride in knowing that their children are on the road to a life time of success and growth in both academic and religious knowledge and experience.
In our school here at St. Edward, the presence of Hispanic children brings a wealth of family values, vibrant faith and a respect for traditional Catholic traditions and devotions, which many Anglo children have never been exposed to in their birth families. Also, all children learn that God’s people come from many places and speak many different languages. Kids make friends easily and learn faster than adults about diversity. They enjoy the presence of many different types of children in their classroom. So, when they are taught that God loves all people, they see all types of people in their school! No program or workshop can instill this type of everyday learning that children enjoy when their classrooms are centers of diversity.
What makes it possible for Hispanic children to attend a Catholic school? First and foremost is building trust and having a strong sense of welcome for Hispanic families, especially for the parents who may not speak any, or very little English. Parishes and schools that welcome Hispanic families will enjoy the benefits of their presence. If families know they are welcomed, safe, and loved, then they are more willing to consider a Catholic education for their children. Secondly, invite them, specifically. Have an Open House or tour of your school with Spanish-speaking people available. Make ambassadors of Hispanic families who already have their children in your school. Thirdly, be willing to assist financially and help them gain access to funding. The Catholic Education Foundation (CEF) and our Archdiocese do assist families and help make a Catholic education more affordable. Guide Hispanic families to these opportunities. In addition, parishes often must we willing to assist Hispanic and other families in bridging the gap between what they can afford “out of pocket” and CEF grant totals. We must understand, this is not just a “nice thing to do”, it is rather living what we hear at the end of Mass: Go In Peace, to Love and Serve the Lord!
Fr. Troy Overton. Pastor, St. Edward Church and School